April Maguire 4 min read AP Guides

How to Understand and Interpret Your AP Scores

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If you’re planning to take AP exams this year, then you’re not alone. In 2018, more than 1.24 million students took at least one Advanced Placement class, and many of them went on to take AP exams. Offered by the College Board each May, Advanced Placement examinations consist of multiple-choice and free-response questions designed to assess what students learned in their AP courses. Many colleges offer credit to students who earn high marks, the end result of which may be a lower tuition bill or more freedom to take elective courses.

 

Understanding Your AP Scores

 

The College Board scores AP exams between 1 and 5, with 5 being the highest possible mark. While requirements vary from one school to the next, earning a 5, 4, or 3 on an AP exam may allow you to skip equivalent college classes. On the other hand, scoring a 1 or a 2 on an AP exam is unlikely to result in credit hours. So, what do the scores mean?

 

AP Score of 1

 

The lowest possible score you can get on an AP exam, a 1 indicates that students were completely unfamiliar with the material. No U.S. colleges currently offer college credit for a score of 1.

 

In some exams, earning a 1 is extremely rare, like in AP Studio Art, where only 1.1% of students earn a 1. For other exams, earning a 1 is common, such as AP Human Geography, where 34.1% percent of test-takers got a 1, more than any other score. For more about score distributions, see our charts later in the post.

 

AP Score of 2

 

While the College Board considers students who earn a 2 on the AP exams as “possibly qualified” to pass a college course in the subject matter, most schools don’t give out credit for this score. In general, this mark suggests that you didn’t understand key elements of the material.

 

AP Score of 3

 

Colleges generally view students who receive an AP score of 3 as “qualified” to pass a college course on the same subject. However, because a 3 on an AP exam is only equivalent to a grade of B- or C, highly competitive schools like Harvard don’t generally offer credit for this score. For most subjects, 3 is the most common score that test takers earn.

 

AP Score of 4

 

Earning a 4 on an AP exam suggests that you have a strong understanding of the material and an ability to apply that knowledge to answer questions. Many schools offer credit to students who received this score, which is equivalent to a grade of B, and suggests you’re “well-qualified” to pass a similar college course.

 

AP Score of 5

 

The best AP score you can earn, a 5 indicates that you studied hard and have a firm understanding of the subject matter. While you might have answered a few questions incorrectly, you performed extremely well overall. Most colleges offer college credit to students with this impressive score.

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2019 AP Score Distributions

 

If you’re planning to take one or more AP exams this May, you might be wondering how other students performed in years past. Below is a distribution chart of AP exam scores, courtesy of the College Board website:

 

Arts

Exam 5 4 3 2 1
AP Art History 11.9% 24.6% 26.6% 24.7% 12.2%
AP Music Theory 21.2% 17.9% 24.5% 23.5% 12.8%
AP Studio Art: 2-D Design 21% 31.5% 34% 10.8% 2.8%
AP Studio Art: 3-D Design 10% 22.4% 37.5% 25.7% 4.3%
AP Studio Art: Drawing 20.8% 33.3% 37% 7.8% 1.1%

 

English

Exam 5 4 3 2 1
AP English Language and Composition 9.9% 18.2% 26.2% 31.2% 14.5%
AP English Literature and Composition 6.2% 15.7% 27.8% 34.3% 16%

 

History and Social Sciences

Exam 5 4 3 2 1
AP Comparative Government and Politics 22.4% 24.4% 19.2% 18.7% 15.3%
AP European History 11.7% 20.5% 25.9% 29.4% 12.5%
AP Human Geography 10.8% 18.2% 20.1% 16.7% 34.1%
AP Macroeconomics 19.1% 23% 16.9% 14.9% 26.2%
AP Microeconomics 24.3% 28.1% 17.2% 12% 18.4%
AP Psychology 20.5% 25.3% 18.7% 13.5% 22%
AP United States Government and Politics 12.9% 12.4% 29.8% 24.8% 20.1%
AP United States History 11.8% 18.4% 23.4% 22% 24.3%
AP World History 8.6% 18.8% 28% 28.8% 15.8%

 

Math

Exam 5 4 3 2 1
AP Calculus AB 19.1% 18.7% 20.6% 23.3% 18.3%
AP Calculus BC 43% 18.5% 19.5% 13.9% 5.2%
AP Computer Science A 26.7% 21.9% 21% 11.9% 18.4%
AP Computer Science Principles 13.8% 21% 37.1% 18.8% 9.3%
AP Statistics 14.7% 18.4% 26.6% 19.3% 21%

Sciences

Exam 5 4 3 2 1
AP Biology 7.2% 22.2% 35.3% 26.6% 8.8%
AP Chemistry 11.5% 16.6% 27.5% 23% 21.4%
AP Environmental Science 9.4% 25.7% 14.1% 25.4% 25.4%
AP Physics 1 6.7% 18.2% 20.5% 28.7% 25.9%
AP Physics 2 14.2% 21% 30.2% 26.2% 8.4%
AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism 37.6% 22.6% 12.7% 16.6% 10.4%
AP Physics C: Mechanics 37.7% 26.7% 17.4% 10% 8.2%

 

Languages

Exam 5 4 3 2 1
AP Chinese Language and Culture 60.1% 14.9% 14.8% 4% 6.2%
AP French Language and Culture 16.1% 25.3% 35.7% 18.2% 4.7%
AP German Language and Culture 21% 24.2% 27.2% 19.5% 8.2%
AP Italian Language and Culture 13.6% 18.1% 34.4% 24.6% 9.3%
AP Japanese Language and Culture 45.3% 12.4% 21.6% 7.7% 13%
AP Latin 13% 19.3% 30.5% 24.1% 13%
AP Spanish Language and Culture 25.2% 34.2% 29.4% 9.5% 1.8%
AP Spanish Literature and Culture 9.5% 25% 37.7% 21.4% 6.3%

 

How Do AP Scores Impact College Admissions? 

 

Historically, AP scores have not had a significant effect on college admissions decisions. While taking AP classes will certainly have an impact on your GPA, the scores you received on your exams don’t affect your GPA or college applications. Moreover, most applications don’t even include a spot for students to list their scores. 

 

Still, many students choose to self-report their scores for AP exams. While there’s no set rule about whether or not to share your scores, reporting scores of 4 or 5 can help make a positive impression on admissions committees. In particular, students who scored a 5 on multiple exams have a chance to distinguish themselves from the competition by self-reporting.

 

As a rule of thumb, don’t bother reporting scores of 1 or 2 on an AP exam. It’s probably not worth reporting a score of 3 on an AP exam either, unless the college offers credit for this mark. The last thing you want is for average or below-average scores to count against you in competitive admissions decisions.

 

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.